Classy and original but you can see why it didn't sell
As long as people remember Looking Glass, they will remember the Thief series. The games have become synonymous with the company. The original Thief was a breath of fresh air in what was becoming a stale genre, because the emphasis was on avoiding enemies, rather than running straight into a room full of people with a rocket launcher. Thief 2 is pretty much more of the same except slightly improved.
The atmosphere and lighting are top notch despite the fact light seems to work differently in Looking Glass games than from real life. Although the game doesn't get the chance to use it's coloured lighting effects to the full because of it's historical setting, as opposed to say System Shock 2 which looked beautiful and uses the same engine; it still looks very good even now. The use of near subliminal sound, like SS2, is another Looking Glass trait. It works perfectly and adds to the atmosphere ten-fold. The zombie missions have been pretty much removed. The level design is very good in places. The voice acting is fine and occasionally hysterical: the back-&-forth conversation between the archers on the rooftops and Karras' voice alone is enough to draw a smile - It's nice to see it taken a bit tongue-in-cheek sometimes. The cutscenes are great and drawn and animated in a terrific style. The steampunk theme is carried brilliantly. It oozes class in it's presentation. The missions are pretty varied, and nothing has changed from what made the original so good in the first place.
This was Looking Glass' swansong and, despite the quality of this game and the obvious talent that was in the company, it's easy to see why they were forced to close. I love many games that don't sell and I like many games away from the mainstream, but this game actually started to get to me after a while. It's so uncommercial it's not true. The problem lies in the fact that EVERY level is spent sneaking around, usually at night. The lack of variety in the locations, (some credit must go to LG for trying though, it's just that so much wood, stone walls and flaming torches can drive a person nuts) can really mess with your head after a while. If I see another guard with a sword I'm going to hurt someone. The urge and the need to see some daylight and have maybe one level a little bit brighter and happier and open will start to grate. It's damn frustrating completing a level that involved 2 hours of sneaky tension, usually involving you sitting in one place for 20 minutes to see if a guard is going to move or not, only to start another and not have that tension released.
Other than that, the animation is still a little rubbish. The level design, while good in places, is sometimes impossible to navigate if all you've got to find your way around are metal gates and stone walls. The game does stretch the limits of it's technological era too: cameras and robots? You sense that LG wanted to make a game set in the present day/beyond but just didn't have the technology/time.
The Bottom Line
A mixed package. Great at what it does despite being slightly ropey in some areas, but then what it does can drive you insane if you don't have a long break. Worth buying but don't expect something to rival System Shock.